Representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service, and Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council gathered at the base of Chimney Rock National Monument on Wednesday, May 1 to welcome a busload of Southern Ute Indian Montessori Academy students as part of the national Let’s Move! in Indian Country initiative.
“The reason we are doing this is for you,” said Susan Johnson, regional tribal relations program manager for the Department of Agriculture, addressing the youth.
The group, aided by interpretive guides, took a full tour of the archeological site, culminating on the high ridge with breathtaking views of the prominent twin towers.
“It’s important that we show some respect for those who walked here before us,” Southern Ute Chairman Jimmy R. Newton Jr. said during his welcome remarks.
“I was quite honored when President Obama worked with local folks here [to designate this site],” said Butch Blazer, U.S. Department of Agriculture deputy under secretary for natural resources and environment. “It’s you [children] that are going to keep this place special. … I am honored to be here with you today.”
Jodi Gillette, Obama’s senior policy advisor for Native American affairs and a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said Michelle Obama — who has spearheaded the Let’s Move! Campaign — wants to reduce and eventually eliminate obesity.
The Chimney Rock event marked the second anniversary of the federal initiative.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” Gillette said of her time working for the White House. “I am really pleased to serve the president and the people around him. … There is a lot of support for Indian County and an effort to make better relations with sovereign nations.”
Following the tour, Southwest Conservation Corps representatives Aaron Lowden, Chas Robles and Dakota Lorenzo from Acama Pueblo and Laguna Pueblo prepared a traditional Native American meal of stew and oven bread for lunch.
Later in the afternoon, the visiting dignitaries met with the Tribal Council. Gillette said due to its work toward self-determination, the Southern Utes have “a reputation for being a partner with the national government.”